Making Stuff Up for a Living
In the film adaptation of Misery, there comes a moment when Paul Sheldon (James Caan) winds a page out of his typewriter, scrawls THE END on it, and carefully adds the sheet to a stack of other finished pages. You remember the scene: It’s a special day. There’s a bottle of champagne chilling. An afterglow cigarette. A single match.
When I was eighteen years old, I wrote my first novel. As you might expect, it wasn’t very good, but I didn’t know that then. I expected — quite confidently — to be a full-time writer by twenty-five. That gave me seven years — more than enough time, I figured, to write a few books and become a breakout success story.
I idolized other authors who had done just that — Michael Chabon, with The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, or Alex Garland with The Beach. I read novels about writers. I bought into the idea that novelists were special, that they were of a different breed than everybody else.
The scene in Misery painted a certain picture for me. In it, I saw my future: The mysterious, perhaps reclusive author, biding away his days in a cabin someplace, pounding out novels that captured the world’s imagination as never before. Maybe I would have little rituals that I would perform when I completed a novel, too.
Maybe the world would throw me a party.
The long, long, long haul
That’s how many years it has taken me to not finish my great novel. Twelve long years of false starts, rewrites, hard drive crashes, do-overs, and even a detour into a graphic novel adaptation. Twelve years, with piles and piles of words, and no novel to show for it.
Oh, there were books before it — three of them. I finished writing those novels without any problems. Never published them, but that was okay. They weren’t really ready. The fourth book — that’s the one that was going to change everything. I was twenty-three when I started writing it. I’ll be thirty-five this year, and I’m no closer to finishing it.
Here’s another number: Six.
Six months is how long I’ve been a self-published author. It’s also how long it’s taken me to write my last four novels. That’s not only considerably less time than you might imagine writing a novel might take, but it’s also dramatically shorter than twelve years.
Six months is a whisper. It’s nothing. But in six months, I’ve found something that, for the last decade or so, I’ve only dreamed of.
A problem of expectations
The gap between traditionally-published authors and the rising crop of self-published authors has been closing for a little while now. There are a few ‘indie’ authors (as we like to call ourselves sometimes) who have found enormous success, who have sold a million books without the marketing department of a big publisher behind them. Maybe you haven’t heard of these indie darlings — yet — but they’re out there, and soon enough, you will.
It's a long article, but worth the read: https://medium.com/this-happened-to-me/making-stuff-up-for-a-living-2b1d097bb230